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Lastings Milledge Shouldn't Be Among Pirates Non-Tenders

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Lastings Milledge is out for the season with a strained oblique and has to worry about being non-tendered:

Will he still be in the team's long-term plans when he returns next year?

"I'm not sure," Milledge said Saturday. "I've done an excellent job here in Pittsburgh. Is it good enough? I don't know.

"I've turned my whole career around, and I thank (the Pirates) for giving me an opportunity to do that. I'm happy here. But in the end, I want to be an everyday starter. I want to be a guy they look at and say, 'This guy is going to do anything to win the game.' That's what I want."

 

Milledge hasn't been "excellent," that's for sure, unless he just means he's worked hard. He's actually been very frustrating. Milledge has had some injury problems since the Pirates traded for him, including a hand injury last year, but I don't think they should excuse his lack of progress.

Still, I don't think a non-tender is a good idea. I don't think there's much the Pirates can really learn from the Jose Bautista situation, but if there's a player on the Bucs' roster who could turn his career around and bite the Pirates like Bautista has, it's Milledge, who's still only 25. Also, as annoying as Milledge has been this year, he hasn't been bad, so he'd have value as a bench outfielder. His salary as a first-year arbitration player wouldn't be exorbitant, so there's no reason to dump him and then hunt for an older, and probably less productive, player on the free agent market. 

By the way, here's a list of the other arbitration-eligible players. Ross Ohlendorf, Joel Hanrahan and Ronny Cedeno will all pretty obviously get contracts, and Zach Duke looks like he'll be gone. (Although I think Duke is a valuable pitcher in the right context, he probably can't succeed in Pittsburgh, so I guess I can't argue with non-tendering him.) Delwyn Young, who hasn't hit much and doesn't provide defensive value, will probably be gone too. 

That leaves Milledge, Wil Ledezma, Jeff Karstens and Andy LaRoche as players who could go either way. I'd keep Milledge, and actually I'd keep Ledezma, who should cost $1 million or less and has pitched much better with the Pirates than his ERA indicates - his peripherals have been outstanding. Also, his velocity has improved throughout his career, so I don't think it's ridiculous to hope that he could significantly outperform his career averages next year. I think I'd also tender Karstens, although I won't worry too much if the Pirates don't.

LaRoche is a strange case. He's the sort of player other teams would love to have in camp, but I think there's a pretty decent case to be made for simply dumping him. Dejan Kovacevic wrote a week or two ago that LaRoche doesn't even hit the ball hard in batting practice anymore; I watched LaRoche take BP a month or so ago in San Diego and noticed the same thing. Milledge clearly as value as a bench player at the very least, but I'm not sure the same can be said of LaRoche, who has a .545 OPS this year.